Recently by steve

Bombay!!

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Yes, we made it !

Arrived here today after a 6 hours drive from Daman.   Since my last blog we have been to some fantastic places......   In Udaipur we each did our own thing for a day and I took a rickshaw up to see the Monsoon Palace.   Perched on top of a hill high above the city it was deserted for many years (and used as a hideout for dacoits) until the James Bond movie Octopussy when scenes were shot there and it was renovated somewhat.  Leopards still up in the hills round about.   Later I wandered round the City palace which was very interesting and huge.   The ruling family in Udaipur are one of the oldest noble families in India, and they moved their capital here after the Moghuls repeatedly invaded their previous fortress at Chitaugarh.   In the evening there was a huge festival in the town which some of us went to.   We got covered in bright pink powder which was being thrown liberally over all and sundry.   Gods on small palaquins were being paraded around town and being taken to the lakeside for a wash, before being taken back to their respective temples.   The noise, heat, insense, and music were tremendous and in one of the squares there were fire-dancers twirling flaming battons, breathing fire, and leaping through burning hoops.   Real India and fantastic atmosphere!

We then drove to Chitaugarh where there is probably the largest castle I have ever seen.   It completely encompasses a huge hilltop plateau.   Just the idea of building it seems incredible.   It encloses 700 acres and would have been absolutely impregnible.   How they managed to defeat the incubent army I failed to find out (must read up on it at home).   We spent a great time looking around, and drove round the inside perimeter.   Stopped to get out and climb up onto the outer wall and as we did so a troupe of about 70 or 80 Langur monkeys arrived.   A large male got up onto the roof of the Landcruiser.   Went to the top of the 'Victory Tower' - 9 storeys high and required a rock climb to get onto the top storey.   We continued to Bijapur Palace Hotel out in remote countryside.   Beautiful old fortress being slowly converted, tastefully, into a stunning hotel.   The Raja owner, who knows Prince Charles, and had Peter Cook stay there once, showed us around.   He runs riding safaris and has 9 gorgeous horses.   Set in rolling hills and delightful countryside.

Frome here we moved on again to Dungapur and to my mind this was the nicest place of all the fabulous Rajasthan towns we had been to.   We again stayed in a converted palace which eclipsed everywhere we had seen so far.   The palace sits on the edge of a large lake, surrounded by pointed, wooded hills and exuded wealth and influence.   Sitting off from the palace,, and seeming to float on the water, was a pretty temple.   The priest rowed out each morning.   There was a large aviary with large and small birds, including Emus, turkeys, and all manner of exotic colourful winged creatures.   There were 7 or 8 dogs including boistrous Great Danes, a Boxer and some Labradors.   The swimming pool 'disappeared' into the lake and was completely beautiful with two stone elephants spouting water and its own 'temple' changing room.   Again the owner (not sure whether he was a Maharaja or not) showed us around - in his garages was a collection of classic English and American cars and wheeled cannon, old carriages and furniture in enormous heaps rescued from his old palace up on the hill.   We ate in an open courtyard which had a dining table that must be unique - it is marble with inlaid semi-precious stones and is rectangular and must be 40 feet long.   In the centre is a long pool whose water comes perfectly up to the edge of the marble surround.   Amazing engineering achievment, fascinating, and to top it all the water produces a strange optical illusion  -  wherever you sit at the table the patterns on the bottom of the pool make it look like it is deep where you are sitting but shallow everywhere else.   The large family dining room is a veritable hunting trophy room, with heads of tigers, bears, deer and wild boar.   Our rooms were delightful.   We had a day's rest at this quintessential place and in the evening took a ride down the lake towards the town.   As sheer luck would have it we had coincided with the last day of a festival in honour of Ganesh.   Large Ganesh efigies were being brought down to the lake, put on rafts, taken out onto the lake, and then sunk to the bottom.   There was a huge crowd on the shore and a noisy firework display which frightened scores of large fruit bats that flew past us   The scene was Draculainan (?)   The heat of the day had exhausted the marble clouds which stood still thinly veiling a full moon.  Indian music drifted across and I felt that in this place I had found a perfect piece of India.

We then suffered a 13 hour drive to Daman on horrible roads ending in the dark and torrential rain.   By the way did I say Dave had a slight argument with a bus and 'Silver' now has dents all down one side!

 

Must go I am late to meet the others for dinner.

Anyway we really have made it all the way from Wotton-u-Edge to Bombay - hasn't sunk in yet.......seems a year or two since we left....so many adventures....wouldn't have missed this for all the world!!!

 

Steve


Lat: 19.031 Long: 72.849

Udaipur

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Hello!

Since Mandawa we have been to Khimsar Fort, Jodhpur, Rohet Garh, and now Udaipur.   Rajasthan is a non-stop kalaidascope (?) of colourful impressions - the women wear startlingly bright saris, the men often all in white, including their large turbans.  Camels everywhere, the landscape greener than I expected but it is like this after the rains I'm told.   Khimsar Fort was at one time a gorgeous old castle in the middle of an utterly flat plain with a large village around its skirts.   However, regretably the fort has be over-developed and the new build hotel (although of good quality) rather swamps the beautiful original castle.   There is a collection of old cars including an old Rolls Royce.  Fabulous swimming pool and a full size snooker table which looks flat but isn't.

The fortress at Jodhpur is one of the most impressive structures it has been my pleasure to see - jaw dropping, and we spent the good part of a day looking around.   So, so Indian - the audio tour was excellent in content but all the numbered stops were out of sequence and no sign posts so one spent one's time going up and down floors looking for the next number.   What a place though!

Rohet Garh was a haven of tranquility - old buildings surrounding a large, mature garden with peacocks, parakeets and chipmonks, not to mention a very naughty Labrador who chewed up the cushions in the flower beds.   The Germans always got to the swimming pool in the morning before us!

Leaving the plain behind we entered some absolutely beautiful hills to visit the temples at Ranakpur.   Again astonishing huge Jain temples built in marble.   Highly carved in fine detail - voluptous sexy Indian women writhing around pillars, huge marble elephants, ceilings that only a mathematician could have invented, and touches of the Karma Sutra in the reliefs.   No leather and no photos of the Gods themselves allowed.   Fabulous place but a couple of large Langur monkeys slammed one of our car doors on Jeremy's toes!

Arriving quite late in Udaipur our hotel lay in an old part of town and in the sweltering heat our team skills and patience we tested once again in forging our way through narrow streets full of people, motor-bikes, rickshaws and holy cows..   It was worth it - our hotel the Jagat Niwas Palace Hotel overlooks the lake and is full of character!  Emerging onto the roof terrace you are confronted by black night and a shinging Lake Palace lit up and reflected in the tranquil waters.   Magical!

 

Must go and visit the city palace......

 

Bye for now.   After this we will visit some off-the-beaten-track places in Rajasthan before the final leg down to Bombay......

Steve  (miss you Seraphina, Katie, Ellie, Tara, Snowy, Willow and the goldfish too (whose names I have a silly mind-block on!)


Lat: 27.727 Long: 75.473

Mandawa

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Hi  again,

My last blog from Shimla seems to have been lost in cyberspace - never mind!   We are now in Rajasthan after further adventures - I don't know where to start.   Yesterday we set off from Kaithal on what we thought would be a straightforward drive but it was not to be so.   To begin with when we tried to leave the town the main road was blocked and we tried to find a way through the town.   After getting totally lost we ended up in a street that got narrower and narrower until we entered an alley and blocked the tide of humanity, scooters, bicycles and animals flowing towards us.   Within minutes (I was the lead car with Jeremy) we were surrounded by a noisy crowd of friendly Indians all shouting different suggestions.   On top of this our second vehicle was offering their own advice over the radio, and Jeremy and John were outside in the street also making loud and conflicting instructions.   Finally we somehow managed to reverse and turn round and extricated ourseves before the whole town came to a standstill!   We then stopped at a roundabout and a friendly man guided us on his motorbike through the maze in the right direction.   He took us to his office and treated us to cold drinks and we met his family before we travelled on.   Lush rural countryside slowly changed to a drier terain.   We passed a terrible accident where a lorry was on its side having had a head on collision with a van.   It must have happened some time before as there was no sign of anyone there.

We carried on and towards the end of the day crossed a railway line three times.  Each time we had to wait for a train to pass, though it looked like the same train each time!

As we approached a town called Fatephur there was a monsoon storm ahead flashing with lightning.   We were soon in the storm of torrential rain, and with night falling.   The streets of Fatephur were like running rivers and again we got lost, only finding the way out when I dashed half a dozen steps to ask some men sheltering under an awning.   I was totally soaked in just those few steps.   We carried on to a bridge under the railway which was already 3 or 4 feet deep in water.   Low ratio gears and we were through and crawling up a slight incline down which poured a stream of water.   We still had 20 kms to Mandawa and if anything the storm ahead looked worse.   It seemed truely biblical, gloomy, errie, and by no means certain that we would make it through.   Upon entering Mandawa we peered through the windscreen (the wiper blades working at full speed barely clearing the rain) and wove our way through narrow streets to the main bazaar.  Luckily we found the hotel near the city gate, the Mandawa Havelli Hotel.   An old converted merchant's house the like of which I have never seen before.   It is fantastic!   Like something out of the Arabian Nights.   Frescos, intricately carved doors, fabulous wall paintings, a galleried courtyard, and a warm welcome.   We must build it into one of HK's itineraries.   After a meal in their beautiful resteraunt we crashed.

Today we went for a walking tour of the town.   Amazing! and one of the best cultural experiences of the trip.   Lots of camels, donkeys (one which was painted in ocre dots) and women dressed in highly bright, colourful saris.   The town is a maze of old merchant houses dominated by a fabulous old castle.

 

S'all for now - must go and do some shopping!!!!!

 

Aged and happy Hippie in another world here in Rajasthan, Indiaaaahhhhh

 

Steve


Lat: 28.05 Long: 75.147

End of Spiti Trek

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Hi,

 

Aged Hippie here again!   Just back from a fantastic trek in Spiti.   What a beautiful region!   Very like Ladakh with phenonemal scenery, gorges, mountains and pretty Tibetan-like villages.   Staggering monasteries.   Saw a herd of Blue Sheep, two wild foxes playing, lots of interesting birds, crossed a 15,500ft pass, visited the amazing temples at Tabo, passed through a police check post by mistake without stopping in the vehicles (had to go back and make amends).   Met all sorts of interesting people including 4 climbers from Austria who were 'bouldering in a remote valley and seemed stoned most of the time!  Were stopped from driving onto Shimla by a massive landslide which had swept away 400 metres of road, so we returned the way we had come.   Encountered terrible traffic jams on the Rotang Pass and used our low ratio gears and Diff Locks to go off road to get past the jams.  Sraped the Silver landcruiser on a lorry as we tetered past it - never mind.

 

Love to all my family [and yes I miss you too Ellie (and Tara and Snowy and the goldfish)]

 

Bye - off to Mandi now, and then Shimla tomorrow.

 

Steve


Lat: 32.244 Long: 77.190

Manali

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Hi,

Aged Hippie here.   I am in an internet cafe in Manali  -  drums are beating outside (some festival in progress I think) and it is late at night.

Thanks Katie for your lovely comment, and yes I miss you loads.   I have often read your wonderful card and looked at the photo you gave me.  You desperately need to improve your spelling though!!

It seems a year since we left Wotton-u-Edge - so much has happened.   Every day brings fresh adventures.   Tomorrow we get up early and drive over two big Himalayan passes on our way to Spiti.   It will be a long and exhausting day, but spectacular.   Today we have been preparing for the trek in Spiti, and I went to visit an old friend of mine, Rinzing Ladakhi Sherpa, who lives in Manali.   He was the first Sherpa I ever used on my first Himalayan expedition in 1977.   He was in good form and looking fit and well.

I helped Jeremy write one or two of his blogs so am not sure of the latest news, however since leaving Pakistan we have been to Amritsar, Pragpur, Dharmasala, Palampur and now Manali.   We crossed into India at Wagah which was shown in the Michael Palin Himalaya series where they do the famous changing the guard ceremony every day.   We had to give 'presents' to one of the border officials to avoid having the cars searched top to bottom.   The Golden Temple was amazing and I went at night to see the end of day ceremony, and I went in the early morning too - fantastic!   The drive up into the Himalayan foothills was really beautiful and we overnighted in an old Judge's Court, and also in an old palace built by the Marharaja of Kashmir.

Well sorry Katie if I didn't mention in my last blog that I miss you - of course I do silly!   I miss you all loads and hope you are reading all the blogs that go up on the site, as it will give you something of the flavour of this amazing journey.   It has/is/continues to be amazing.   Congratulations by the way Katie on your exam results.   Glad you all had a brilliant holiday in the States.   Hope Tara's leg is OK now.

I will try to add some more when we get down to Shimla.   Bye for now......

Steve

Lat: 32.244 Long: 77.190

Kashgar

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Finally, at last, we have arrived in Kashgar!  We were stopped at the border for three days because of politcal troubles and the Beijing Olympics.   There had been a bomb in Kashgar, but in any case the Chinese authorities in their wisdom, we were told, had closed all the borders into China on 8th August.  So we rented a house in a village near the border for $150 for three days for the 8 of us.  We cooked our own food and hung out.   It was simple and basic but actually fine and we read books, worked on the vehicles, and played with the local kids.  There were some very nice people in the village - old men with Asiatic beards and the round hats so common here.  On Monday we got up early to get a good place in the queue at the border, but by the time we got there the line of lorries was already quite long.   However with our vehicles we managed to get near the front and then the officials thankfully gave us a fast track on the Kyrgys side.   The Chinese border was all smart uniforms and efficient officialdom.   They searched pretty thoroughly the lead vehicle going through all the bags and looking into the engine compartment and interior.   Even then they did not spot the safes built into the floors or the other hidden storage areas, not that we had anything to hide anyway.  Three hours which was great.   At the Chinese side we met our Liason Officer, Abdul, a nice young man who came on the train from Urumqui, 22 hours to Kashgar, then by bus to the border.   He had all the permits and having been photographed and scanned for SARS, we then drove 255kms to Kashgar.   What a journey!   It was like being on the moon - vast rocky mountains, desert, erroded landscapes, puntuated by mud built villages surrounded by slender poplar trees.   We stopped at a roadside cafe for noodles - delicious.   We were all in great spirits having succeeded in crossing the most difficult border.   Arriving in Kashgar the impression was of another large Chinese town - brash, modern, busy and crowded with a mixture of ethnic minorities and Han Chinese.   We saw for the first time hordes of green taxis, electric scooters, amongst the usual donkey carts, bicycles and even people on horses.   We headed for the centre and looked at two hotels before deciding to go for a bit of luxury at the International Hotel.   Only a year old and four star.  700 Yuan for a room per night (about 30 pounds per person including breakfast).

In the evening we went out for a meal in a local Chinese resteraunt - wonderful real Chinese food sat around a round table.   Local red wine and rice beer.   Outside there was a huge square full of people enjoying themselves, dominated by a massive statue of Chairman Mao, and everywhere flashy neon.   People are amused by us - a group of young elderly one time hippies still sporting long silver hair (Roger even wears his as a pony tail sometimes!).

 

Today we had a great day visiting the old British Consulate where Eric Shipton lived and worked.   In fact we went back in the evening and had a great meal in one of the old rooms.   The best bit of the day was in fact wandering around the old town.   Fascinating remnant of the real central Asia - narrow streets with people selling everything under the sun.   So many impressions and sights crowding in upon each other.   We watched a man shoeing a horse, bought freshly baked circular breads, haggled for carpets, and took photos non stop.

 

We were told in the late morning that there may be a further problem with travel through to Pakistan, and that extra permits might be needed.   A British group though, having been stopped at a police check post, did in fact get through, so we are hopeful for tomorrow.   We also have connections that we may be able to use in Urumqui - we will see.

 

Off the bed now  -  already places like Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand seem a long time in the past.   We are all well, getting along fine, and loving the trip.   Bye from now from the Aged Hippie!!


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Volgograd

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Well hello!   Debs has done a great job of our first blog about the journey so far to here, and there's no point in my repeating all that.   Just to say that I am loving every minute of this incredible adventure.   There is so much to see and take in - the change in culture, people, and geography, the sense of vast distance - it is constantly fascinating.   The journey makes its own magic; who would have thought that we would meet a Jesuit priest walking all the way from Portugal to Sevastapol to see a bible there taken by a saint in the ninth century!   He was 67 years old and when we met him he had just walked 37 days non-stop from the Czech Rep border.   We think his blessing saved us when we broke down shortly afterwards.

Volgograd as a city is well worth another journey sometime.   Yesterday we went to see the gigantic memorial statue that stands on top of the tallest hill in the city.   The Russians have created an incredible place there to remember the dead from the 2nd World War.   Not only is the statue one of the most incredible in the world, but the hall below it containing the Eternal Flame is an emotionally moving and simply beautiful structure.   I have the feeling that the sheer scale of the horror here (2 million dead in the siege) is something that the city can never escape from.   The city itself is attractive - wide streets and boulevards, green trees, and a mixture of old and new.   The hotel we are staying in (the Volgograd Hotel) is one of the few old buildings to survive intact the bombing and shelling of the war.   It is quirky and basic but fine for us.

 

Today we beging the hard part of the trip - the deserts of Central Asia.   Now begins the drive to Astrakhan, Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara, Tashkent and Osh before we cross the mountains to Kashgar.   I can't wait!!

We will try to blog again when we can, but we really have not had much time to spare.   See you.......


Lat: 48.742 Long: 44.537

Not Long Now

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We depart on 09 July and still there are Visas to obtain for Russia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and India.   Everything else is pretty well organised  -  well almost.......the huge journey awaits

Steve or more commonly known as 'The Aged Hippie'

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